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Monday Musings: Of Coups and Separation

The Hollie Doyle/ Tom Marquand bubble will be stretched by a few thousand miles for the next two months, writes Tony Stafford. While Hollie contemplates a trip to Saudi Arabia for that kingdom’s big race, the multi-million-dollar Saudi Cup at the end of the month, fiancé Tom is bound for a return trip to Australia where he had such spectacular rewards last year.

It is fair to say that twin Group 1 wins on the William Haggas-trained Addeybb ‘down under’ instantly propelled him into the top echelon of Flat-race jockeys. Understandable, then, that he is prepared to spend the next two months – thereby missing the start of the 2021 turf season – on those lucrative shores.

The circumstances will be different though this year, as they will be for every UK resident not managing to secure an overseas “pass” in these days of limited air travel.

You need a valid reason for going but I‘m sure even the strictest enforcer of the rules will have agreed that travelling over to ride in races for a percentage of million-pound pots every few weeks is justifiable. Marquand will this time have to spend two weeks at the start of the trip stuck in a hotel room living off room service and, no doubt, Zoom calls to his beloved at the other side of the World.

Covid-19 first assailed, briefly relaxed its grip, and then re-established itself in Australia, where the discovery of a cluster of cases in a quarantine hotel in Melbourne which had been latterly free of the virus caused the removal of spectators from the Australian Open tennis championships halfway through a match on the main court towards the end of last week.

Luckily, Tom is bound not for Melbourne but Sydney where he had 30 wins during last year’s Autumn Carnival. Parting will be such sweet sorrow for the Golden Couple of horse racing but a few more big pots will help them hopefully on their way to getting a joint mortgage!

The two-week “house arrest” it seems will feature an exercise bike to keep the fitness up although if there are two better-prepared jockeys in the UK weighing rooms these days than Doyle and Marquand I would be surprised.

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Hollie’s principal employer, apart from the plum job she got last year with Imad Al Sagar, for whom she will be riding in Saudi Arabia, is Archie Watson. The Lambourn trainer has provided her with 115 wins from the 548 mounts she has had for his stable.

Watson and Doyle teamed up for the Group 1 win of Glen Shiel in the Qipco Champion Sprint at Ascot in October when it took all the rider’s strength to get him home from the equally-gallant veteran Brando in a desperate finish.

Watson, I was surprised to note on looking through his stats this morning, actually had quite a slip in numerical terms of winners between 2019 (133) and the comparatively-modest 70 last year, although quality – rather than the quantity that made his reputation – was the stable’s new focus. Now he faces an even quieter spell after antibodies of the highly-contagious EVA (equine viral arteritis) were discovered in one of his horses.

Watson has imposed an immediate halt on having any runners from his stable for the foreseeable future and is working closely with the BHA to ensure the outbreak is confined so as not to spread it through the racing community.

Jump racing’s recent hiatus with the ravages of one of the more aggressive winters of recent memory looks likely to get a reprieve for the rest of this week. Exeter managed half a card (no chases) yesterday but it is full speed ahead today at Warwick where the featured Kingmaker Chase pits the Skeltons’ highly-regarded front-runner Allmankind against Cheddleton and Sky Pirate.

It will be great to see horses of that class aiming to secure their places in Cheltenham Festival’s Arkle Trophy. I have in the back of my mind that Chaddleton, trained by Jennie Candlish, might be value at 6-1 in a four-horse race where the ground is sure to be very testing even at two miles.

I trust you will forgive what, by necessity, is a less comprehensive view of matters racing but there can rarely have been in the seven years or so that we’ve been going in this place – except of course from mid-March to May 31 last year! –so little of note happening on a racecourse .

As they say, even reminiscing about the past is not what it was, although uncannily on the morning that the last piece was landing in the inboxes of my correspondents and on this site, the events of June 10th 1989 were to be spookily rekindled.

Referring back to a planned four-timer for horses trained by Peter Hudson at the privately-owned Linkslade Stables of Al Deera Bloodstock Holdings – now Willie Muir’s base – following last week’s two-out-of-three attempted coup, I also had to recall that time a failed final leg.

By all accounts one of the architects of the Scottish-initiated bet would have won between £2 and £3 million had the third leg won. That’s the widely-touted figure and of course I have no intention of pointing a finger anywhere! But bad luck anyway, if that’s what it was.

What I can say with some accuracy is that Pharaoh’s Delight’s failure to win Leicester’s Sports Mercury Maiden Fillies’ Stakes at 8.45 p.m. on that Saturday evening some 32 years earlier cost the owner of the horses the best part of £250k – although getting the money from the 300 shops covered by Danny, Kevin, Paul, Lennie and my dad would not have been easy.

When it came to collecting the cash, my then 69-year-old father left those duties to his dog trainer, Paul Philpott, and Paul’s boyhood Homerton mate Roland, known as Boo, who for many years has been a noted collector of racing memorabilia.

Boo, who upscaled to Hertford years ago, has so much stuff, largely racecards and the like that he has had to take a lock-up to house it all. Recently he was asked to vacate the rented space as the owner had a better use for it and, while going through some of his collectibles from the 1980’s, came across the very Leicester racecard which I now have in front of me.

Pharaoh’s Delight was ridden by Pat Eddery that night and she had worked well at home although David Dineley, who had ridden her in work before the race, is still adamant more than 30 years on that he reckoned at the time she would need the run.

That wasn’t the trainer’s view and the now Norfolk-based garden designer was of the opinion she had the best chance of the quartet. The other three won well enough (at 11-2, 3-1 and 8-11) so £10k that had been placed in a variety of bets but the majority as Yankees, was shaping up to be a proper coup.

The plot thickened when Pat returned to the weighing room after her sixth place – “dwelt, headway halfway, eased when beaten final furlong”, said the close-up in the year-old Racing Post. Pat told George Hill - there as I couldn’t attend that night: “Bad luck, she’ll win at Royal Ascot.” She did, by just the six lengths in the Windsor Castle Stakes; and, for good measure, she won the Princess Margaret Stakes (Group 2) at Ascot and then the Heinz 57 Phoenix Stakes (Group 1) at Phoenix Park on her next two starts.

I wonder where Gallahers Cross, the beaten third leg of last week’s much grander coup at Musselburgh when shortened to 4-5 favourite, will run next. If what happened to Pharaoh’s Delight is anything to go by, the Daragh Bourke gelding, having his first race for more than a year, will bolt up next time – but that will be much too late! I expect they’ll see him coming!

Bookmakers relieved after gamble is scuppered at Musselburgh

Bookmakers were spared losses estimated at millions of pounds after the third leg of an audacious betting coup came unstuck on Sunday.

The layers were prepared for the worst after the first two horses, Fire Away and Blowing Dixie, obliged at short prices after being backed at big odds, with only Gallahers Cross left to run.

The trio were linked together in a variety of wagers with several bookmakers when betting on Sunday’s races opened on Saturday night.

All three were sent off short-priced favourites after being snapped up at double-figure odds.

Paul Binfield, spokesman for Paddy Power, said: “I don’t want to reveal figures, but our liabilities would probably be on a par with others in the industry.

“The trading room at Power Tower breathed a huge sigh of relief when Get The Appeal foiled the gamble and crossed the line in front.”

After the victories of Fire Away and Blowing Dixie, the eyes of the racing world were focused on Gallahers Cross, trained Daragh Bourke, in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh.

The race may only have carried a winning purse of £4,288, but it was worth an awful lot more to those in on the gamble and those punters would have been sitting comfortably for most of the two-and-three-quarter-mile contest.

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Gallahers Cross travelled well up to the second-last flight, only to find little under pressure, and the 4-5 favourite faded into fourth place as the Paul Nicholls-trained Get The Appeal made all the running under Harry Cobden.

Until then the three-horse gamble was very much on.

Fire Away, who was available at 22-1 when betting opened, went off the evens favourite as he kick-started the gamble in the bet365 Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Having his first start for Laura Morgan, the eight-year-old romped home by 19 lengths in the hands of Richie McLernon after taking the lead after the third-last fence.

“We’ve had him 11 days. We bought him from Daragh Bourke,” the Leicestershire trainer told Musselburgh’s Twitter account.

“He had a couple of horses for sale. He was one of them. I did go to buy the other one, but we bought him instead.

“Fingers crossed, he can win a few more.”

Backed down from 9-1 to 4-6 favourite, Blowing Dixie brought up the second leg in the Betway Casino Handicap at Southwell.

The Iain Jardine-trained five-year-old looked to benefit from a drop in class when defying top weight by a smooth two and a half lengths in the hands of Andrew Mullen.

“He’s travelled through the race really strong and I wanted something to take me further, but I was there three out, so I let him get on with it,” Mullen told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s very honest. He likes Southwell. He’s got course form round here and he came good today.

“I spoke to Iain this morning and he said ‘I think I’ve got him as well as I can and if he turns up, he’ll be hard to beat’. He was right.”

Not all bookmakers fell foul of the attempted coup. Simon Clare, head of PR at Ladbrokes Coral, revealed they managed to “dodge a bullet”.

“Our trading team who were on duty last night spotted the path of bets quite quickly and it was clear they were connected, so they reacted quickly and turned off the multiples for those three selections,” he said.

“We were aware something very organised was going on, but we managed not to face anything too scary.

“We saw what other people were saying and had our trader not spotted it and left it another half an hour or an hour, given the huge odds in play, you would have been facing huge liabilities.

“It’s hard to know what other firms were facing. We managed to dodge a bullet.

“Actually, for us, it was much more of those favourites winning was more of a nightmare for us than the attempted coup.”

At the request of the British Horseracing Authority’s integrity department, the connections of all three horses were interviewed by the race day stewards before their respective races.